Should I Become a Taxidermist?
Taxidermy is the art of preserving dead animals with the object of restoring a lifelike appearance for display as trophies or museum exhibits. The process involves preparing, tanning, stuffing, mounting and retouching animals that include fish, birds, small mammals and large game. Taxidermists may work part- or full-time in sports or taxidermy shops. Some work for natural history museums. Many enter the field with the goal of opening their own taxidermy shops.
Work in the field can be sporadic, and many taxidermists take on jobs as they come. The career can be considered a craft art, which takes a good amount of skill, training and attention to detail. Taxidermists should of course feel comfortable working with deceased animals on a consistent basis.
While no degree required is required to work in this field, trade school certificate and diploma programs in taxidermy are available. State licensure is required in most states, and a federally issued permit is necessary to work with migratory birds. Voluntary professional certification is available through the National Taxidermists Association. These professionals should have artistic skill, strong hand-eye coordination and attention to detail. They should also have knowledge of animal form and coloring, as well as fur, scale and feather texture. Administrative and marketing skills are needed for operating a taxidermy business. According to 2015 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for craft artists was $35,710.
Steps to Become a Taxidermist
Step 1: Complete a Taxidermy Program
Taxidermy certificate and diploma programs, available through accredited trade schools and some community colleges, provide training in the technical and artistic skills required to become a taxidermist. Programs provide the opportunity to work with professional taxidermists in studio environments working on authentic projects. Course topics typically include tools, techniques and knowledge related to specific types of animals, generally birds, fish and small and large game. Additional courses may include state and federal taxidermy regulations, air brushing techniques and entrepreneurship. Students can typically take individual courses or complete certificate and diploma programs of varying lengths.
Since taxidermy offers the opportunity for self-employment, a basic knowledge of business and marketing is important for success. A professional-quality website with photos of taxidermy projects, for example, can help a fledgling business get started. Though some taxidermy programs incorporate business training, additional courses may be helpful.
Step 2: Obtain State License and Federal Permit
Most states require taxidermists to be licensed, but specific licensure and professional practice requirements vary by state. Some states require applicants to pass an exam on taxidermy regulations to obtain licenses in various categories, such as general, mammals, birds and fish. Applicants need to consult state departments of natural resources or fish and wildlife to verify licensure requirements and obtain detailed information on professional practice regulations. In addition to a state license, taxidermists who intend to work with migratory birds need to get a federal permit through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for which a state license is a prerequisite.
It is important to learn state and federal taxidermy regulations. Not all taxidermy courses and programs provide thorough instruction in state laws regulating wildlife and professional practice. Infringement of these regulations can make license and permit applicants ineligible or cause licenses to be revoked. Some state departments provide study material recommendations on their websites.
Step 3: Get Certified
The National Taxidermists Association (NTA) offers voluntary professional certification. Though professional certification isn't mandatory to practice as a taxidermist, earning professional certification can help improve taxidermists' career opportunities or businesses. Certification through the NTA is awarded on a point system, in which applicants need to place or have their work evaluated in approved taxidermy competitions to earn points. Certified taxidermists receive useful marketing tools from the NTA, including a certificate that may be displayed in shops, emblems for advertising and an NTA news release for local papers. Additional membership benefits include life and business insurance.
To summarize, while no degree is required to become a taxidermist, certificate and diploma programs are available. Additionally, these professionals need to obtain state licensure, if applicable, and a federal permit might also be needed if the taxidermist will work on migratory birds.